Mack MacKenzie

Dateline: 08/21/98

Mack MacKenzie combines honest, blunt lyrics with a straightforward musical attack. It's a songwriting style that has made him somewhat of a legend in Quebec, where he was best-known as the leader of Three O'Clock Train. Although not too well known in the rest of the country, Three O'Clock Train influenced many bands in Canada, most notably Blue Rodeo. In fact, several critics have asserted that if Three O'Clock Train had been based in Toronto, and Blue Rodeo in Montreal, the outcomes of both bands might have been reversed.

That's something we'll never know, due to the group's demise several years ago amidst turbulance in Mack's personal and professional lives. Mack is now a solo performer who is still regarded as being at the top of his game, with several releases under his belt such as 1996's self-titled album on the Justin Time label. His label's bio quotes a reporter at the Montreal Mirror as saying that Mack is "perhaps the best songwriter this city has produced in the past ten years."

That is a statement I certainly won't argue with. I talked to Mack about his songwriting, career, and future plans. His answers were very much like his writing -- direct, and honest.
Paula: What is it like being an English-language performer in Quebec?

Mack: Lonely! I donít think of myself as part of the music scene really; Iím not really active with any of the bands in town, so I donít really notice, but I do when I go out and play. But I sort of shy away from live performing these days

Paula: More than one critic has said that if Three OíClock Train had been from Toronto and not Montreal that things might have been different. Do you believe this, and if so, did you ever think of pulling up roots and going to greener pastures?

Mack: No, I donít believe that at all. Itís flattering and frustrating at the same time, every time I read something like that. I chose to do something else other than what the Rodeo boys did. Theyíre good friends of mine and I wanted to get more into doing film work and composing for myself than do something commercial.

Paula: You come from a variety of different cultural background -- Native, French, Scottish -- how have your different heritages influenced your music?

Mack: I donít think itís so much the heritages as the geography.

Paula: In what way?

Mack: Because I grew up on a farm in Maine and we listened to a lot of country and western -- Buck Owens and Johnny Cash, and Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette, Porter Wagoner. Then my older sister started getting into the Monkees and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So by the time I came to Montreal I think punk rock hit that music scene in the 70ís and thatís when I started playing music and it was sort of like a combination of all of that. Then I tried to get away from the categories or the genres and just write for myself and just write songs that pleased me.

Paula: The song "Iím Not Your Indian Boy" -- is that sort of autobiographical in any way?

Mack: In some ways yeah, but Iím not pointing my finger at anybody with that one. It was just this sort of statement not to look at myself that way. Even if some people would, I would never consider myself as somebodyís Indian boy. I didnít want to attack anyone in the song, though.

Paula: What influences your songwriting these days?

Mack: Television. Nothing in particular other than I guess news and sports and the way it is presented to people, and the way everything is censored here in Quebec like you wouldnít believe. Once you cross the borders to a newscast outside of Quebec, like in Ontario, itís a whole different story.

Paula: What are your goals as an artist?

Mack: To keep making records. That really is it. To afford myself studio time with lots of great players.

Paula: What are some current projects you are working on?

Mack: The MacKenzie-Parker Gang. It will be my first commercial record. Iíve been working on it for the past three years with the drummer from Voivod, Michel Langevin, and the bass player/producer from Men Without Hats, Stefan Doroschuk. Weíre just shopping the record around right now, so maybe in the Fall or next Spring it will be out. That will be a whole different ballgame.

Paula: In terms of musical style?

Mack: Oh yeah. I donít know how to describe it because I hate to pigeonhole myself. Letís just say itís a commercial project.

Paula: Is there ever going to be any chance of a Three OíClock Train reunion?

Mack: Well, weíre all still living, so thereís always a chance [laughing] but thereís no plans for anything like that in the future.

Paula: What advice would you give to a struggling young singer/songwriter?

Mack: [laughing] Oh, thatís a good question. Keep your head up. You see, when I was a struggling young singer/songwriter, I didnít realize it, so keep your head up, keep on your toes. Donít sign anything.

Graphics courtesy of Justin Time.

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